Pakistan's Pathway to the Bomb

Ambitions, Politics, and Rivalries

Mansoor Ahmed

"Utilizing familial ties, access to primary source material, and interviews, Mansoor Ahmed has provided us with the most detailed, nuanced account we may ever have of Pakistan’s nuclear programs."
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A groundbreaking account of Pakistan’s rise as a nuclear power draws on elite interviews and primary sources to challenge long-held misconceptions

Pakistan’s pathway to developing nuclear weapons remains shrouded in mystery and surrounded by misconceptions. While it is no secret why Pakistan became a nuclear power, how Pakistan became a nuclear state has been obscured by mythmaking.

In Pakistan’s Pathway to the Bomb, Mansoor Ahmed offers a revisionist history of Pakistan’s nuclear program and the bureaucratic politics that shaped its development from its inception in 1956 until the 1998 nuclear tests. Drawing on elite interviews and previously untapped primary sources, Ahmed offers a fresh assessment of the actual and perceived roles and contributions of the scientists and engineers who led the nuclear program. He shows how personal ambitions and politics within Pakistan’s strategic enclave generated inter-laboratory competition in the nuclear establishment, which determined nuclear choices for the country for more than two decades. It also produced unexpected consequences such as illicit proliferation to other countries largely outside of the Pakistani state’s control.

As Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent program continues to grow, Pakistan’s Pathway to the Bomb provides fresh insights into how this nuclear power has evolved in the past and where it stands today. Scholars and students of security studies, Pakistani history, and nuclear proliferation will find this book to be invaluable to their understanding of the country’s nuclear program, policies, and posture.

Table of Contents


1. Bureaucratic Inertia and the Nuclear Option

2. The Triumph of the Mythmakers

3. Facing the Smiling Buddha

4. The Enticing Centrifuge

5. Procurements and Politics of the Special Project

6. Trials, Tussles, and Uranium Enrichment

7. Achieving the Plutonium Ambition

8. Building the Nuclear Device

9. Competition, Command and Control, and the Nuclear Tests


Appendix 1: Major Figures in Pakistan’s Nuclear Establishment, 1960–2001

Appendix 2: The Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program, 1972–2001

Appendix 3: Note on “Nuclear Danger from India” submitted to President Ayub Khan by Munir A. Khan and Abdus Salam, Summer 1967

Appendix 4: Newsletter of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission published in May 1974, a few days after India’s first nuclear test

Appendix 5: A.Q. Khan’s handwritten private letter to Munir A. Khan, June 1976, on the status of the centrifuge project before he took over as project director a month later

Selected Bibliography



"Mansoor Ahmed has undertaken the most ambitious new approach to Pakistan's nuclear history in a decade. Through interviews with surviving participants and a trove of previously unseen documents, he shines a new light through the haze of heroic myths that have come to surround the subject. Ahmed shows convincingly that Pakistan's nuclear weapons program succeeded in spite of an atmosphere of intrigue and intense bureaucratic and interpersonal rivalries."—Joshua H. Pollack, senior research associate and editor, The Nonproliferation Review

"With great skill and new evidence, Mansoor Ahmed explores the complex history of Pakistan’s nuclear project, including the roles of Munir Khan and A.Q. Khan. This is an important contribution to our understanding of Pakistani policy and of nuclear history more generally."—David J. Holloway, Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, emeritus, Stanford University

"Utilizing familial ties, access to primary source material, and interviews, Mansoor Ahmed has provided us with the most detailed, nuanced account we may ever have of Pakistan’s nuclear programs."—Michael Krepon, cofounder, Stimson Center, and author of Winning and Losing the Nuclear Peace: The Rise, Demise, and Revival of Arms Control

"Debunking myths and correcting common wisdom, Mansoor Ahmed’s opus is a must read for anyone interested in the full story of Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, particularly the people and the process involved. Drawing on unique sources and interviews, Ahmed brings new understanding to issues such as the interplay between the plutonium and enriched uranium routes to the bomb, A. Q. Khan’s inflated role, and the ineffectiveness of imported North Korean Nodong missiles. I learned a lot."—Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Americas Office, International Institute for Strategic Studies

"A timely and well-informed contribution to Pakistan military history and nuclear capability development."—Midwest Book Review

"The book is an important contribution to the academic literature on Pakistan’s nuclear history. It disproves the widespread myths surrounding Pakistan’s highly secretive nuclear project that have made it difficult to separate facts from fiction. Leveraging a range of previously unseen primary sources, Ahmed puts various conflicting historical events into welcome perspective."—International Affairs

"Mansoor Ahmed’s book, while purposefully pertaining to the realm of security and strategic studies, is a valuable contribution to the historical knowledge of Pakistan’s nuclear programme."—Cold War History

"Pakistan's Pathway to the Bomb offers a riveting new account that puts together some of the missing pieces in Pakistan's nuclear journey. Ahmed's work provides a compelling counter-narrative to various popular yet inaccurate beliefs."—International Affairs

"In this excellent book, Ahmed challenges conventional wisdom about the evolution of Pakistan's nuclear program, arguing that the country's "nuclear elite" was already pursuing dual-use latent nuclear weapon capabilities in the 1960s, long before India's 1974 nuclear test. Using primary and secondary sources, numerous interviews, and previously unseen documents, Ahmed describes in painstaking detail the intricate bureaucratic politics and changing coalitions shaping Pakistan's path to developing nuclear weapons capability before the May 1998 nuclear tests."—Choice

"Ahmed's book should replace or complement the classic books on Pakistan's nuclear program. It serves as a reminder of how much of the world's nuclear story remains locked away in inaccessible memories and archives and how much of it may be obscured by intentional mythmaking."—Binding Hook


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Mansoor Ahmed is a senior fellow at the Center for International Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan. He is a former Stanton Nuclear Security junior faculty fellow (2015–16) and postdoctoral research fellow (2016–18) with the International Security Program and Managing the Atom project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. He also served as a lecturer in the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, from 2011–15.

336 pp., 6 x 9
4 figures, 1 table
ISBN: 978-1-64712-230-0
May 2022

336 pp., 6 x 9
4 figures, 1 table
ISBN: 978-1-64712-231-7
May 2022

336 pp.
4 figures, 1 table
ISBN: 978-1-64712-232-4
May 2022

South Asia in World Affairs series
T.V. Paul, Series Editor

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